Utilities have long relied on their experience and intuitions when making business decisions. However, data analytics is shaking up the industry. For one distribution electric cooperative, what started with a catalyst has led to a data-driven culture, across the organization, where teams rely on metrics to move KPIs and surpass goals.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is not un-similar to other cooperatives throughout the country. As a member-owned utility, governed by an elected board of directors, resources can be highly restrictive. When an initiative is not outright linked to member benefits, it’s likely not going to get the budget to move forward.
Utilities, however, are seeing an industry-wide shift toward data and analytics. Technological changes, like EVs, are forcing utilities to look deeply into and evaluate whether their business model is built to manage the future expectations of their customers and members.
REC “promotes and enables a culture of data-enhanced decision-making and continuous improvement.” Leaders from the top-down, as well as directors on the board, not only see the value data analytics provides to its operations, but more importantly to its membership as well.
We sat with the Director of Enterprise Analytics & Innovation and self-proclaimed Data Evangelist, Eugene Hamrick, to learn about REC’s road to building an analytics practice. He shared where roadblocks can exist, and how identifying the “why” behind the value of data assets paves the way to better decision-making across the organization.
Click here, press play, and listen in on our full conversation with Eugene Hamrick and discover how data-backed initiatives reveal tangible results for the investors, leaders, employees, cohorts, and members of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
REC’s data journey started with a catalyst.
REC’s data analytics journey started with a catalyst: Microsoft Power BI. By leveraging the platform, Hamrick’s team was able to provide a self-service analytics tool for business teams – across the organization – to access insights for an array of initiatives.
From the start, Hamrick realized collaboration – between both technical and non-technical departments – is a necessary component for expanding data initiatives. Yet, in an industry where employees already wear many hats, taking on too much can typically lead to negative results.
Along with perseverance, Hamrick said, REC’s “dedicated sponsorship and leadership” team recognized that in order to continue delivering tangible value to their membership, they needed to re-think headcount restrictions – that are synonymous with cooperatives.
Hamrick now manages a data and analytics team of eight.
Learn how REC’s Data Governance Model supports the flow of information between technical and non-technical users by jumping into the conversation here.
Using Data Analytics as a Differentiator
For Hamrick and the leadership team at REC, their goal is to think not only about how data can improve daily operations, but how it can be used as a differentiator as well.
With over 900 distribution energy utilities nationwide, only a fraction are lucky to have even a single data intelligence role on staff. For cooperatives without dedicated resources, delivering meaningful results for an entire cooperative membership can be ineffective.
In an effort to achieve “excellence” for the entirety of REC’s operations, and support their cooperative peers, they’ve founded BrilliT, an IT solutions company for energy cooperatives and utility partners.
The subsidiary’s platform is able to support partners with data solutions that meet top critical success factors like member engagement, operational excellence, and cost reduction.
As an example, Hamrick points out that their solutions can help identify line loss inefficiencies. By combining different management systems – like meter data with SCADA – and aligning it with purchasing and invoicing, they’ve been able to identify circuits where line loss was up to 20%! Cases like this allow teams to pinpoint and fix inefficiencies that ultimately save members money.
Learn more about the different use cases BrilliT’s supported by jumping into the conversation here.
Member Satisfaction and Engagement
Hamrick’s team, alongside the BrilliT team, build models around national surveys, like JD Power’s, that focus primarily on quantifying member satisfaction with their utilities. Their model generates insights about where strengths and/or opportunities lie so that business teams can extract next best actions for intervention.
In one instance, REC identified “membership reliability” as an area in need of intervention. Realizing that “keeping members informed” is an integral part of the ‘member experience,’ teams were able to identify touchpoints where reliability and satisfaction scores could be improved.
“Members want information to make a decision,” Hamrick says, and that was the cornerstone for REC in creating a KPI around outage text alerts.
Teams created outbound targeted campaigns – including targeted marketing and member segmentation models – reaching the right customers, through the right channels, and grew enrollment 10% in less than two years. As a result, in 2021, REC ranked 9th in the nation for “keeping members informed.”
Interested in building an Analytics Practice in your organization?
REC’s journey may be unique, but it isn’t impossible for organizations to develop a Data Analytics Practice of their own. While some organizations use “data quality” as a barrier to starting theirs, Hamrick says, “Not all data is good data, but all data can be essential to solving a problem.”
At BlastPoint, we very much agree, and we’ve helped our utility partners clean up “messy,” incomplete data so they can get started utilizing it to solve problems right away.
As our Spotlight interview wraps up, Hamrick explains REC’s foundation for building out its Analytics Practice. He recommends building out 5 key areas of the Strategic Technology Analytics Roadmap (STAR) that include: Use Cases, Data Governance, Technology, People, and Organizational Readiness. But most importantly, Hamrick says, “start somewhere, and find a catalyst of your own.”
Huge thanks to Eugene Hamrick, and the whole team at the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, for sharing their journey with us in growing a successful data practice.
BlastPoint’s platform democratizes customer intelligence, so that every organization, no matter the size of their staff or the state of their data, can improve their customer experience campaigns almost immediately. With our predictive insights at their fingertips, teams know exactly where customers are on their journey and engage effectively. Implement a data-backed strategy into your business model by contacting our Solutions Experts today.